…and yet I still lay awake until 4 am last night. To borrow one of my favorite terms from Arabic; Malesh.I’ve been told it means ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘that’s unfortunate’, but mostly I found the term carried the resonance of ‘too bad, that’s life, deal with it’.So I think it may be appropriate here.
One week and I have completed handover from the former Finco (our handy term for the financial and human resources coordinators).And the one thing that has struck me so much has been the difference between here and Sudan. Living in Dhaka is luxury. I can go to a supermarket and buy one of 8 different brands of anything! I can buy DVDs (of surprisingly high quality considering that the covers are sometimes poorly laser copied – I always get a kick out of the fact that even the piracy warnings are copied). I can buy kitschy import Korean school supplies (how thrilled will my sisters be). I can buy books in english!!!!!! There are sidewalks and streetlights and not nearly as many gaping holes into fetid water along the street.
Not to say that there aren’t similarities – there is still the call for prayers that can rip you out of sleep at 5 AM. There are birds everywhere that will start cawing and chirping at 4 AM (despite the air pollution here which must be the equivalent of a pack or two of smokes a day). I think there is one near our house that is some sort of ‘mocking’ bird since it has a jazzy little tune that I swear I’ve heard before.
But the country as a whole is in a much different state than I found Sudan. The international community here is mostly development agencies and embassy folk.We are the only MSF section present (while all operating sections are in Sudan). The expat presence is much different then in Sudan, where emergency aid workers far outnumber any development related staff. The international media isn’t everywhere. Signs of war aren’t everywhere. Being part of the international community doesn’t feel as stigmatized and vulnerable as it did when in Khartoum. (I remember telling friends that I was so excited to go to Bangladesh because it meant while reading newspapers I wouldn’t be represented as the face of immorality and illegality).
And this relative calmness that you sense compared to a country like Sudan is what makes this mission much harder to justify. People refer to this as a ‘soft’ country because trucks aren’t being hijacked and staff isn’t beaten. Although instead of people, maybe I should just say that ‘I thought this was a soft country’ (although I know I’ve heard ‘soft’ from somebody…). And that thought is dangerous because there is a real humanitarian crisis here. The needs of the Rohingya population who fled the abuse in Myanmar to come to Bangladesh, who have been living in makeshift camps for 15 years, who are denied refugee status and living on the side of a road, those needs are still glaring, and we are doing our job staying here.
MSF operates in some of the most dangerous places in the world and I think we can get used to seeing the dangers and threats as somehow indicative as to the seriousness of a problem or the ‘realness’ of the threat to a population (and again, I need to rephrase to say ‘I’ not ‘we’ since I really don’t know how other people feel). I think the program here could prove to be a good reminder though if there is anyone out there beside myself who has such preconceived notions, since the situation for a population cannot be inferred from the GDP of a country. This program reminds me that what matters is that we hold on to our mission statement and treat those people most at risk without prejudice. And we are doing that here in Bangladesh, which makes the restless nights worth it.